Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles

Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles is a game I struggle to have any sort of passionate feeling about one way or the other. On the surface, it looks like another Resident Evil clone, with static cameras, tank controls, an extremely minimalistic inventory, and so on. There’s a rampant infection, and you need to collect items, solve puzzles, and survive the outbreak. It’s a simple and well-traveled premise.

But there’s a clunkiness to Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles that makes it disorienting and uncomfortable. Many of the style choices are strange, and visual details often clash, especially in the menus. If there were some sort of universal font choices and color scheme, I think menus would better project the horror atmosphere that the game is going for.

Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles

There are so many little details like this that could have been fixed or adjusted if more people had playtested the game. For example, the character’s legs move faster than the actual walking speed, which makes it look like the character is sliding everywhere. If this animation were slowed down, or if the walking speed were upped to match the animation, it would make a huge impact on how the game feels.

On top of that, there’s an input lag that creates a noticeable delay in menus. I recorded this to prove to myself that this isn’t just my brain playing tricks on me, but you can clearly see the lag in the video below.

Now, out of my own stupidity, I was unable to figure out how to drop items at first, and I needed to contact the game’s creator (Evan Wolbach of Dead Drop Studios) to figure it out. He was kind enough to give me some pointers.

Aside from letting me know that I could, in fact, drop items in the game, Evan’s response gave me an interesting look into the intention behind the Outbreak series, as well as Evan’s love for the genre. He explained that the clunkiness of the inventory — as well as the lack of any true tutorial or instructions — was intentionally done in homage to survival horror games of the past.

And that got me thinking about the creation process of a game like this.

I did a little research into Dead Drop Studios, which as far as I can tell is just Evan Wolbach making games by himself. I came to learn that he’s released five games since 2016. That, to me, is stunning level of productivity. This makes me wonder just how good these games get with a few extra team members and a bigger budget. I see the work Evan is doing, the games he’s pumping out entirely by himself, and I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if he had even five other people working with him.

Is Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles a bad game? I genuinely don’t believe so. I think it’s limited by the materials Evan has to work with and the resources available to him.

So is this a good game then? That’s a harder question to answer. I imagine that most people who pick up this game will play the first chapter, then walk away thinking it’s mediocre at best. But if you look beyond the playable product and remember that this game world — which stretches across five whole games now — was created by a single mind, I think you’ll have a different perspective. Maybe you’ll see how much potential and possibility this project actually has. In that light, I think you’ll be willing to appreciate it a bit more.

Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles

Making things is hard, and I can only imagine that making games is especially hard. Making a game series would be even harder yet. If I were to attempt to make a survival horror game on my own, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as the Outbreak games.

And that makes Outbreak: The Nightmare Chronicles kind of special in its own weird little way. It’s not high art, but it’s a passion project by a person who’s doing his best with what he has. And you know what? I respect that.

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